Can Flextime Help Working Families Have It All?

By Teresa Wiltz

For 16 years, Dena Adams investigated child abuse cases for Covenant House, a Manhattan nonprofit. But when the agency put her on the overnight shift in 2011, the single mother found herself scrambling to find child care for her 11-year-old daughter.

Adams didn’t feel comfortable leaving the girl alone at night in her Brooklyn neighborhood, which could be dangerous, so she asked Covenant House for an evening shift instead.

The agency refused–and then fired her. (Covenant House declined to comment on Adams’ specific case, but said it has “a strong commitment to working with each of our employees to provide the flexibility that is so vital in today’s workplace” and that it must balance employees’ needs “with the critical needs of a 24-hour crisis shelter.”)

“I thought they would work with me and they worked against me,” Adams said. “I can work anywhere, any job. Just give me the flexibility to care for my daughter. That’s all I ask.”

Some cities and states are trying to give that flexibility to their own employees.

California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina all direct state agencies to allow “flextime” schedules for their workers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some states and cities are going further, by applying the same rules to the private sector.

At the beginning of this year, Vermont and San Francisco began mandating that private employers consider employees’ requests for flextime without retaliation. New York City may soon follow suit.

In June, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer published a report recommending that the City Council pass “Right to Request” legislation creating a formal mechanism for employees to ask for flexibility without fear of reprisal. The legislation is expected to be introduced over the next few weeks.

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